SFI update – reaction from Uplands Forum chair Thomas Binns

08 April 2022

An image of NFU Uplands Form chair Thomas Binns taken outside in a field on his farm

Thomas Binns, chair of the NFU's Uplands Forum, reviews the detail in the latest SFI (Sustainable Farming Incentive) guidance. The latest announcement included more information on the moorland and rough grazing standard. Here, Thomas looks at the things uplands farmers will need to consider when deciding whether to join the scheme in 2022.

With Covid, Brexit, huge rising input costs, and the transition from BPS, it continues to be an uncertain time for many uplands farmers.

The NFU Uplands Forum and I were particularly concerned by Defra’s initial offer under SFI’s moorland rough grazing (MRG) standard. You can read about these concerns in an article I wrote last December: Uplands forum chair's views on the Sustainable Farming Incentive

We raised this in a constructive meeting with the Farming Minister Victoria Prentis earlier this year: Uplands forum has crucial SFI meeting with Farming Minister

I am pleased that Defra has now confirmed its plans to launch SFI and that it has listened to the Uplands Forum's asks for crucial changes to be made to the offering. To me, these amendments provide confidence in the process and means we are able to have a successful and open dialogue with Defra going forward.

"These amendments provide confidence in the process and means we are able to have a successful and open dialogue with Defra going forward."
Thomas Binns, NFU Uplands Forum chair

Changes in the offer

We all know how much the uplands sector delivers for the public, but the original offer did not reflect this. It was a less than modest offer, and this was echoed in a modest response from NFU members and the Uplands Forum.

The changes announced to the scheme particularly around the increased introductory MRG standard payments has been a significant win for the Forum. This reflects more realistically the work that will be required from uplands farmers. In part, too, it recognises that this is the only offer available until 2024, when other levels of the MRG standard will become available.

I believe the scheme will now be more attractive to farmers. The payment has been increased by more than 55%, to £10.30 per hectare. Additionally, farmers of common land will see a further £6.15 per hectare in recognition of administration activities needed for the land.

Going forward – more needed

Looking ahead, we need to see more detail on the SFI guidance so that uplands farmers are able to make a decision about whether to join the scheme in 2022. To help uplands farmers plan for the future of their businesses, Defra must provide more clarity on this in the coming months.

It is important that the intermediate and advanced level of the MRG standards in development for 2024 provide the right support which will allow uplands farmers to thrive. There is much work needed at this stage to ensure this happens.

We look forward to working with Defra, to keep livestock on the hills and ensure uplands farmers are able to continue to provide climate-friendly food and environmental benefits for the public.

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